Monday, March 28, 2005

U Toronto Program in Applied Ethics article on DEVELOPING COUNTRIES

Erin Court, Abdallah Daar, Elizabeth Martin, Tara Acharya and Peter Singer, "Will Princes Charles et al diminish the opportunities of developing countries in nanotechnology?" See January 24, 2004.


This article discusses the nano-divide. In it they warn the rhetoric, to date, has failed "to consider and understand how nanotechnology can bring benefits to ... people in developing countries. It discussed nanotechnology and its implications for disease diagnostics and treatment, water purification and environmental cleanup, etc. It warned that "risk management issues specific to developing countries: displacement of traditional markets, the imposition of foreign values..." They warned we need to cognizant that developing countries do not have the "resource to establish, monitor and enforce safety regulations."

The article tackles the compelling question: "Will industrialized nations continue to invest in stain-resistant 'nano' pant, nanotechnology-based cosmetic and other products solely for the rich, or will nanotechnology's potential to improve lives in the developing world be seized?" This question needs to be addressed soon and here at South Carolina we have spent some time mulling over it. While it is easy to predict the primary beneficiaries of this new science/technology will be the affluent, this does not mean the benefits for people in developing countries will be foregone. Though trickle-down economics is a difficult theory to defend, there is some good evidence that technology does trickle down given time and as markets continue to grow as a result of globalization. Though globalization has many negative side-effects, one of the benefits has been reductions in infant mortality and other indicators. Applied nanoscience will reach into these markets and while some products sold there will be luxury products, others will be more practical.

They also ask whether the debate over nanotechnology will resemble the one over GMOs. Analogies are rhetorical devices. They have tenor, vehicle, and tension. The tenor is nanotechnology, the vehicle is the GMO controversy, and the reader assumes the tension is low, which would make it a strong analogy. However, a more detailed understanding supports a contrary conclusion. Clever similarity is not the only characteristic of analogies.

Arguments of a variety have been made about the positive relationship between GMOs and nanotechnology. (1) Public perception is developing along a similar track whereby the biotechnologists assumed everyone would embrace GMOs once they knew how beneficial they were. (2) The disconnections between their long-term benefits and short-term risks have not been addressed. (3) Both biotechnology and nanotechnology seem to be messing with nature (an issue revisited below). (4) Both of these industries are associated with transnational corporations, witness the ETC Group. (5) There is distrust in corporate businesses that which transfers into biotechnology and nanotechnology. (6) There are like concerns associated with the basic patenting of life and the building-blocks of life. (7) Some European anti-GMO groups may be crossing over to challenge nanotechnology. The leap to anti-nanotechnology protestors is not improbable. Indeed, many of the activists now calling for strict controls on nanotechnology are veterans of the GMO crop wars. We have a situation where anti-globalization protestors have converted in many instances into anti-GMO protestors as well. (8) Both the claims of GMOs and nanotechnology are hyperbolized. These characteristics are hardly essential to the analogy, but describe a multitude of concerns about technology drivers of all sorts.

BUT there are differences as well. The European experience with GMOs is unlike what may happen here for at least five major reasons. (1) Overall public support and trust for science and technology in the US remains strong. That is not the case in Western Europe. (2) The historio-cultural sociology of Western European environmental groups and movement are distinctly different from those in the US. For example, the Green Party has never been able to foothold into American politics. (3) Applied nanoscience is a general-purpose technology unlike GMOs. (4) Campaigners warned that the next great anti-technology battle will be fought not in fields of GMO crops but outside the high tech plants of nanotechnology manufacturers. While rhetorically powerful, the diversified nature of nanotechnology as an industry, if there is an industry, significantly reduces concentrated target points. Where do the protestors congregate? To date, there have been mild protests at the Berkeley Foundry and the THONG protests at the November 2004 NanoCommerce Convention. (5) Protests and boycotts associated with products have generally failed in the US and groups and movements are easily sated and demobilized in America.

They go on to cite from "promising examples of North-South partnerships, e.g., the FP6 EU cooperation with third partner countries" and "US funding nanotechnology in Vietnam." BUT these are clearly exceptional.

The article ends with a call for foresight studies and claim “there is at the moment no global focal point to commission and collect research results… for managing nanotechnology’s associated risks and promoting global public goods, provide a platform for constructive dialogue among all stakeholders…” While we agree, we hope that the forthcoming Center for Nanotechnology in Society will address some of these needs and concerns.

Saturday, March 19, 2005


Over the flu and the NSF:CNS NSEC grant proposal has been submitted.

James Wilsdon & Rebecca Willis, SEE THROUGH SCIENCE: Why public engagement needs to move upstream, 2004. See DEMOS WEBSITE:


Willis and Wilsdon are both based in London; the former works for the charity Green Alliance and the latter for the thinktank Demos (Thanks to Richard for background information).

The foreword is written by Barbara Young, chief executive of the Environment Agency. She posits "designed in the right way, regulation can stimulate innovation." Most of us simply assume regulation stifles commercialization which is not necessarily true. While banning a product or process once it has been adopted might be problematic, when "engagement and dialogue ... take[s] place at the right time and involves the right people", industry can direct their efforts in acceptable and profitable ways. Young identifies two of the issue, we wrestle with regularly. When do we involve the stakeholders? And who are the stakeholders?

Rhetoric aside, we need to decide the setting for involvement, the level of involvement, and what role involvement will play in the decision making process. On many occasions, I have spoken about the consequences of allowing societal and ethical interactions (SEIN) with stakeholders to become symbolic. If societal and ethical interactions are nothing more than perception and fear management, then we risk fracturing the public trust even more than is currently has been abrogated.

Young concludes her forward. "[P]ublic trust in government and its agencies will be enhanced if the role of scientific information in the decision-making process becomes clearer."

Wilsdon and Willis begin the report by heavily referencing Hilgartner's study of some NAS reports in the 80s (see SCIENCE ON STAGE, Stanford University Press, 2000). Professionally, I found his book to be uninspiring and something we'd expect from an undergraduate paper. He beats the "science is like theatre" simile to death. While I am on metaphors, Wilsdon & Willis are equally guilty of taking the acronym PUS and teasing it until the reader might experience mild nausea.

In general, they argue that nanotechnology, esp. the Royal Society report on nanotechnology, "represents a change in the scientific community's approach to the risks, uncertainties and wider social implications of new and emerging technologies." I think many of us involved in SEIN work feel much the same way about the National Nanotechnology Initiative and its recent preoccupation with public involvement. Maybe we will learn something in the process of engaging this initiative which might help us democratize the science and technology decision making process in the United States.

In the first chapter, Wilsdon & Willis ask a question worth considering here. "If we take the case for upstream engagement to its logical conclusion, will it not only change the relationship between science and public decision-making, but also the very foundations of knowledge on which science rests?" (p. 24). First of all, I am not sure what this means? Is it calling for a redefinition of scientific objectivism? Is it calling for a reintegration of the scientific way of thinking with the ideologies that helped science move into the public gaze? Who knows for sure? BUT I remain a strong advocate on being much more conservative with our rhetoric. Before we construct a challenge to scientific knowledge per se, we may want to make some dents into the current hierarchy of power with modest public engagement.

Chapter two discussed a subject that needed to be raised: "The Tyranny of Risk Assessment." They write: "risk management... has become a dominant discourse within public service delivery" (p. 26). They continue: "most forms of public participation are focused on downstream risks... reflecting the false assumption that public concerns are only about instrumental consequences and not... about what human purposes are driving science and innovation" (p. 27).

Simply put, the decisions are made upstream and the participation occurs downstream where the public has no agenda-setting input. Let's take this illustration. One of the first applications of nanoparticles involves cosmetics, especially sun screens. The public is being asked to help decide how to make the use of nanoized particles of titanium oxides safe rather than asking them to decide whether nanoized particles of any sort should come in direct contact with skin. Consider a larger illustration. The public is being asked how to regulate nanotechnology per se when the question whether their tax dollars should be spent promoting nanotechnology has never been asked at all.

Wilsdon & Willis add a second concern. "[T]he task of defining what the salient issues are within the process of public engagement automatically falls to experts, leaving citizens with no capability not proper role in automatically creating and negotiating more diverse public meanings" (p. 27). On the next page, they asked these questions. "Why this technology? Why not another? Who needs it? Who is controlling it? Who benefits from it? Can they be trusted?..." (p. 28). These questions are not rhetorical.

Upstream participation requires that "some of these questions [are returned] to the negotiating table, and to do so at a point when they are still able to influence the trajectories of scientific and technological development" (p. 29). THIS IS THE CORE OF THEIR ARGUMENT.

I have written elsewhere about CAN/SHOULD CONUNDRUM in science. Simply put, science does things because it can rather than it should. And every solution to a scientific or technological problem seems to be another scientific or technological fix. More of this in a later post.

While I grow incredibly weary of the tired metaphor between GM and nanotechnology, I accept the fact that it won't go away anytime soon. Nonetheless, the authors use it and the GM Nation initiative as a virtual lesson in what SEIN research may need to confront in dealing with the nanotechnology juggernaut.

The most intelligent part of the report covers the means for public engagement and unlike too many of my peers; they admit there is no silver bullet. Public engagement will be a variety of means.

This report is recommended.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Brussels EC Nanotech Workshop

Sorry, flu and grant deadline.

European Commission, NANOTECHNOLOGY – PROCEEDINGS OF THE WORKSHOP: RESEARCH NEEDS ON NANOPARTICLES, Eds., R. Tomellini and C. de Villepin, 25-26 January 2005.


Jung from the Paul Scherrer Institute wrote; “Neither the Nano- hype or euphoria nor Nano- bashing is recommended at the given time.” Nano is everywhere. “A normal room can contain 10,000 to 20,000 nanoparticles, whilst these figures can reach 50,000 nanoparticles per cubic meter in a wood and 100,000 nanoparticles per cubic meter in urban streets.”

Hoet discussed ultrafine particles translocating from the lung into the systemic circulation in his hamster studies. Kreyling from the Natl Research Center for Environment and Health argues, “Nanoparticles feature similar reactivity as ultrafine particles.” Migliore from Pisa warns that engineered nanoparticles should be distinguished from ultrafine particulates and the consensus seems to rest with this point of view. IOM’s Aitken observed, “As particle size decreases and surface properties become more active, toxicity and potential health effects increase” and “surface area is better metric that mass for predicting health effects.” The entire debate over naturally occurring versus engineered nanoparticles will not be resolved soon though it seems clear engineered particles may be more problematic.

While this report is technical, there are some very interesting observations. In Tomellini’s foreword, he maintained that “research results should be made available to all stakeholders as quickly as possible… and the public at large. The research he refers to related to environmental health and safety addressing interdisciplinary toxicological and eco-toxicological issues. Pridohl of Degussa/Dechema called for research into toxicokinetics (transport of nanoparticles into and through cells, crossing of organistic barriers, such as blood-brain and placenta barriers).

The report contains abstracts. As a result, the following while highlighting some of the important observations may not reflect the depth of the presentations. Nonetheless, the report is a challenging, but realistic, read for the researcher without a substantial background in toxicology.

Aitken and Schmit-Ott from Delft observed, “There are no effective methods available by which particle surface area can be assessed in the workplace.” Horn for TSI GmbH called for monitoring technologies in environmental settings (roadside, urban, etc.), industrial and traffic emissions, stationary workplace monitors, and even personal monitors. He also called for a metric that can assess integrated measurements (number concentration, surface concentration, mass concentration) and size distribution.

Karn from the EPA mentioned the Gordon Research Conference planned in nanotechnology, the environment, and a Research Progress Meeting in fall 2005. I will attempt to post more information of the GRC as it becomes available.

Tinkle from the NIH reviewed some transdermal research. Having read her studies from beginning to end, she makes interesting observations about distressed skin and beryllium dust. Associating distressed skin with sun-exposed and damaged skin is not difficult to envision. Whether there are implications for titanium oxide, sunscreen ointments will be addressed later. However, Tinkle’s work along with others suggests a transdermal portal for nanoparticle translocation. Butz for Leipzig observed, “The penetration is restricted to the first 3-5 cornezyte layers of the stratum corneum disjunctum”, as “penetration is not a diffusive process BUT nanoparticles are mechanically introduced into the stratum corneum as well as into hair follicles.” Butz recommends concern due to possible “risks of nanoparticle in titanium dioxide products.”

Sabbioni form Ispra (EC) claims, “the level of NP which typically occurs in the environment is probably not large enough to give rise to acute effects for general population failing in the category of low level exposure.” As such, Sabbioni voices the opinion of the consensus of experts: workplace exposure seems to be the most important vector environment at this time.

Rickerby from Ispra (EC) and Kirkpatrick of Mainz suggest primary routes of exposure associated with pharmaceuticals, or nano-ceuticals. We may expect application in diagnostics and drug or gene delivery systems. Application would occur through indirect injection, topical, or aerosol. What astounded me, what Kirkpatrick’s recommendation the nanosafety issues need to be addressed “to avoid negative press.” Migliore made a particularly worrisome remark when he recommended reserve into the genotoxicity of metals of nanotechnology and related these metals to neurogenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s. Another worrisome remark was made by Konstandopoulos from CERTH/CPERI who warned that “treating nanoparticles as new chemicals would only fuel more hysteria in the already unscientific oppositions to nanotechnology.”

Napier’s Stone recommended research to determine whether “current water treatment systems are effective in removing nanomaterials.” The absence of more supporting recommendations from others in the report seems to highlight the current view of the eco-toxicity of nanoparticles: a secondary concern.

What follows is a series of reports about about Nano research initiatives in the EC: NanoSafe, NanoSafe2, NanoCare, NanoPathology, NanoTox and Impart.

Hullman from DG RTD makes a remark “it is irrelevant whether the risk perception is realistic or irrational” and described some ELSA (ethical, legal, and social aspects) initiatives, from brochure, workshops, and websites to visualization projects in science museums. Konstandopoulos from CERTH/CPERI discussed the use of the concept of nano-car to assist the acceptance of nanotechnology. This is definitely a subject deserving more study.

Links to some of the abstracts are in the report, such as Rice’s Colvin, UK’s Mark, and Tel Aviv’s Korenstein.

Thursday, March 3, 2005


Staff Reporter, "Military Uses of Nanotechnology - the coming scary cold way of Nano-bots and Nano-materials - the invisible deadly Nano-bombs," INDIA DAILY, February 27, 2005 (

What is irresponsible journalism? That depends on the goals of journalism. Fear mongering and disaster pornography sells media. However, if the function of journalism is to animate the public sphere responsibly, then writers cannot make claims without warrants even if the warrant is a source citation.

Nanoscience, read nanotechnology, is rife with hyperbole. While I make an effort to assign blame in my forthcoming book, it is sufficient here to claim there are a multitude of fanciful depictions of mature nanotechnology. Hence, this notice of HYPERBOLE OF THE MONTH.

Here are a few quotes from the article.

"Nanotechnologies...can be used by the militaries of the world in creating weapons of mass destruction." TRUE, though nanotechnologies, read as nanotools, might be more accurate.

Next quotation.

"Militaries of many countries have established weapons with Nano-techs." FALSE and ???. First, ???. What is/are "Nano-techs"? Little technicians? Second, which militaries?


"...[N]ano-materials massively damage the lungs. Ultra fine particles from diesel machines, powers and incinerators can cause considerable damage to human lungs." FALSE and TRUE. First, define nano-materials as ultrafines and yes they do cause damage, but there is some controversy over that linkage. Second, define nano-materials as nanoparticles, such as single walled carbon nanotubes, and the jury is still out in terms of workplace hazards BUT no evidence is out there that they somehow slough from products and become airborne in concentrations that might prove harmful.


"...[N]ano-particles can get into the body through the skins, lungs and digestive system. This may help create free radicals that can cause cell damage." YIKES. Transdermal expression is unproven. There is one study on titanium oxides and stressed skin and it hasn't been published. Lungs, better. Lots of studies, but little consensus. Ingestion, yikes. You probably shouldn't eat a handful of carbon nanotubes.


"...[T]he human body...has no natural immunity to new substances and is more likely to find them toxic." OK. First, true of all things bigger than nanosize. Second, you are begging the issues from above. Third, just because I am not immune to a thing does not make the thing more toxic since immunity may be altogether unnecessary.


"...[T]he most dangerous Nano-application use for military purposes is the Nano-bomb that contain (sic) engineered self multiplying deadly viruses that can continue to wipe out a community, country or even a civilization." For this alone, the author wins the NANOHYPE AWARD for February. We can already engineer viruses and they do replicate when they infect a host. I guess that could be construed to be self replicating. We don't need a "Nano-bomb" to do that. By the way, what is a "Nano-bomb" anyways? Where did this come from?


"Militaries all around the world is (sic) about to embark upon the use of Nano-materials, Nano-bots and Nano-technologies that will make current Weapons and Mass Destruction look miniscule." IRRESPONSIBLE. This rhetorical flourish has no warrant. Actually the concept of size is not a defining feature of WMDs. I assume the author means destructive potential. Regardless, check off 1. Militaries without identification. 2. "All around the world" overclaim. 3. "Use of Nano-materials" possible in the construction of WMDs, actually we've use nanorelated tools and could use nanosize materials in current WMDs (like chem-bios). 4. Nano-bots do not exist. 5. Nano-technologies - see above (I guess).

This is irresponsible journalism and deserves to be called out.

Tuesday, March 1, 2005




There are very few documents addressing truly international concerns about applied nanoscience and nanotechnology. I found this document mostly useful for its participant list. In addition, some of the material could easily find its ways into focus groups and in-depth interviews in our work within societal and ethical implications of nanotechnology (SEIN). [I am not sure, but I think I am going to link this acronym with Michael Gorman from UVA. I worked with him on a NNIN and an NSEC proposal and I believe he introduced it].

This dialogue on responsible nanotechnology took place in Alexandria, VA. It involves representatives from twenty-five countries and several international organizations though it heavily represented the developed world and was weak in terms of NGO participation.

Some important general observations included a call for international coordination, nanotechnology should not be viewed as a single technology, no country was considering a moratorium, transparent regulatory efforts should enable adaptive capacity and encourage flexibility, the widening knowledge gap between developing and developed countries must be reduced,

Breakout groups reached additional sets of observations. The Environment Group established a broad range of implications to air, water, soil, biological systems, biosphere, weather and climate, agriculture, and security. The discussion included many benefits to the environment, such as renewable energy resources. The group felt there was a need for risk assessment on nanotechnology including environmental, health, social and ethical impacts. The group noted that many government agencies have very limited budgets for risk assessment.

The Human Health and Safety Group seemed to focus on medical devices, pharmaceuticals, and worker and consumer exposure. One of the first issues discussed was on nomenclature. Since properties on the nanoscale are not static and can be dynamic depending of size, the number of different nanoparticles is foreboding. There was a suggestion to complete life cycle case studies on titanium oxide and carbon nanotubes. Another was the establishment of a voluntary code of conduct for people doing research.

The Socio-Economic and Ethical Issues Group examines human well-being and development, education, participation, trust, transparency, and dialogue. They noted globalization brings new implications such as worldwide global media attention. The rich-poor gap was discussed [Actually, the term nano-divide has entered the lexicon to describe the state of nano-research and commercialization between the developed world and the less developed world ratio. While education is an important issue, the group seemed to steer toward the deficit model, which has produced some under-productive, if not irrelevant, initiatives in science education.

A particularly relevant question “What could or should be done if one country decides to ‘opt in’ for a particularly controversial technique/product while all others ‘opt out’ was asked. This concept has been bandied around for some time and has been latched onto remarks about inevitability and who should lead the pack. Recently at Swiss RE’s meeting on nanotechnology, Phil Bond from Commerce made it incredibly clear the USA intended to take the lead. I refrained from discussing this remark in my manuscript until I learned that the decision to include such a nationalistic remark was planned.

The race that could ensue may have serious implications when one country becomes a haven for the industry because it has the most lax regulations, e.g., worker safety. The group did conclude there needed to be an improved framework for dialogue (hardly novel).

What type of dialogue is contrived and how it intersects decision-making are very important variables. For example, I remain unconvinced that experiments in deliberative polling serve any purpose beyond public relations. Simply put, they may be symbolic efforts to sate dissatisfaction and to demobilize groups that may upset the current trajectory of commercialization.

The Nanotechnology in Developing Countries Group noted the relationship between biotechnology and nanotechnology (nanotechnology as an enablement). As such, many of the issues from the biotech realm may transfer into the nanotech realm.

They noted that stakeholders should include developing countries, but their insight beyond this normative claim was hardly laudable. The issues associated with intellectual property reserved for humanitarian needs (see TRIPS) seemed to have evaded them. The special needs of developing countries, esp. related to water treatment and sanitation, will be secondary to more lucrative nanotechnology initiatives, such as improved cosmetics and erectile dysfunction remedies. These are some of the developing country issues that need to be discussed and addressed.

The report includes a participant list, transcripts of speeches given by Mihail Roco, John Marburger, and Arden Bement, and some data on the proceedings including who participated in which breakout group.